I think one of the biggest compliments I have ever received on a dish I have made was for this one.
A few years ago, I made this as a side for my Baked Penne with Butternut Squash and Ricotta (https://dinnerwithjonny.com/2012/12/26/baked-penne-with-butternut-squash-and-ricotta/). I had a meeting that evening at school, and I knew that my principal probably had her nose to the grindstone the entire day, so I decided to bring her some dinner (I AM Italian, so I want to feed everyone if I can). I showed up a bit early for the meeting, gave her the dishes, and went to grade some papers until the meeting started. About ten minutes later, I heard, “Jon! What did you put in that salad? My mouth is dancing with flavor right now!” I explained the recipe below and told her I would send it to her. I even got a thank you note for this with similar sentiments on how much she loved the salad. The reason this was such a big compliment to me is because I know that she’s a foodie, and I managed to impress her with some flavors that she hadn’t experienced.
If anyone makes this salad, you will totally understand why anyone would be impressed. This is not a pussified salad either; it borders on a main course, and its flavors will titillate the erogenous zones of an entire party, if you make it for them. The substance of the roasted carrots, avocado, and grilled bread, kissed with the seeds and the dressing, create pure pleasure and satisfaction. It took me about an hour and a half to make it the first time, but now that I got the hang of it, it’s 45 minutes tops.
By the way, this recipe, with only a few modifications, is straight from Jamie Oliver, that British kid whose food show is quite bitchin.’ But, he’s British and therefore writes in a funny accent and he uses the metric system. I write using the U.S. Customary Unit, which isn’t nearly as confusing as the metric system, that 10-based thingie where everything translates logically and easily. Most importantly, I do not write in a funny accent, so I have an edge on him.
A few years ago, Jamie would do a half-hour show (Jamie Does…wherever) that focused on dishes of a particular region. The recipes from Morocco totally intrigued me because I was almost completely uneducated as to the culture and cuisine. So I went on sort of a Moroccan kick for a while, and I will write about those recipes in the coming months because they tend to be more springy and summery dishes (Africa can be hot, from what I hear).
In any case, this would be a great salad to make and serve a while (like an hour) before dinner because it is filling. It will give people more incentive to drink good wine and loosen their jaws a bit.
Moroccan-Spiced Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad
Serves about 4
1 lb. carrots, the neato heirloom ones are best, but regular ones are fine too
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. each of salt and ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, or 1 1/2 tsp. dried
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 orange, halved
1 lemon, halved
2 or 3 ripe avocados (I love more, but it’s up to you)
Ciabbata or a rustic-type bread, cut into about four slices, and grilled a bit
Enough mixed greens for four small salads, washed and drained
1/2 cup sour cream
4 tbsp. mixed seeds (I used poppy and sesame, and I would have used pepitas if I had them)
Preheat the oven to 350°.
You can peel or not peel the carrots, depending on your preference. Cut the ends off of them and put them in some boiling water (to parboil them) for about 10 minutes. While they’re boiling, make the seasoning for the roasting part.
Using a mortar and pestle (I am guessing a spice grinder would work here too, but not when you add the garlic and wet ingredients), smash up the cumin seeds, chilies, salt, and pepper. Add the garlic and the thyme and smash all of this up into a kind of paste. Add in the olive oil to cover up the paste (add more if you need to) and the vinegar. This is the marinade for those carrots when they come out of the boiling water.
Put the halved oranges and lemons face down in a roasting or baking dish. Drain the carrots, add them to the baking dish, and carefully coat them with the herb-y paste-y marinade. Roast this for 30 minutes.
While everything’s in the oven, cut the peeled and pitted avocados into slices. Wash the greens and get your act together.
When the carrots are done, remove them and divide them amongst four plates. Carefully and using tongs, squeeze the orange and lemon halves well into a bowl (I mean carefully because the fruit will be fucking hot). Add an equal amount of olive oil and a swig of red wine vinegar (1 tbsp. or so, but taste and adjust if you need to, kiddo). Season it with salt and pepper.
Divide the avocado between the four plates. Take the greens and toss them with some of the dressing. Top the avocado with the greens, dollops of sour cream, and the seeds. Tear pieces of the grilled bread around it too. Drizzle more of the dressing over the salads and serve. You will get this:
The colors alone warrant a collective thrill and hug-fest. Get some wine involved and lifetime friendships will be made, to be sure. There are lots of Moroccan chicken soups and stews that would compliment this salad well.
Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.
©Jon Marino 2013